In her mid-twenties, Christine Butcher goes to work as a secretary for Mina Appleton, the heiress of a large supermarket chain. Christine is married and has a young daughter but her obsessive work ethic leaves her little time or thought for her family.
“I was always a better secretary than a mother”
Mina Appleton is a wealthy, entitled, ambitious, demanding yet charming woman whose moral ethic is sorely lacking and her own ‘image’ of paramount importance. She conducts her life like an egotistical dictator. She takes her upstanding family business and sullies it with her greed and cunning.
“Mina Appleton’s image has always been her most precious possession. A sacred object she’d do anything to protect. The rest of us paid the price.”
Over their eighteen years of working together the two women share many secrets – yet theirs is not a ‘friend’ relationship. Their relationship was not equal enough to be that of a friend. More like mentor/ingenue or, to be more accurate that of narcissist/enabler.
Back in June of 2015 I read and reviewed this author’s “Disclaimer” which I thoroughly enjoyed – therefore I was highly anticipating this novel to be of high quality. It was! “The Secretary” belies my notion that you have to ‘like’ at least one of the characters in a novel to truly enjoy it. This was a stellar read – yet I didn’t really like either of the main characters. Mind you, both women evoked emotion while I was reading it. Mina Appleton made me feel disgust and anger with her bullying, manipulative actions, while Christine Butcher made me feel impatient with her neediness, her spinelessness and blind devotion to her employer.
I admired Christine’s work ethic and her loyalty, however misplaced. Unfortunately she took these admirable traits to a whole other level which made her seem like a willing participant in her own victimization.
The settings in the novel were vividly rendered, the characters likewise. This would make a great movie. (Sandra Bullock would be great as Christine Butcher).
This was a novel that explores how a person’s childhood shapes the adult they will become. It also scrutinized the way that guilt and betrayal can warp the human psyche. It was a novel of betrayals and lies.
This is a ‘twisty’ thriller that doesn’t surrender its secrets until the last third of the book. I’m sure that most fans of the psychological thriller genre would enjoy this novel. Highly recommended! Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to reading Renée Knight’s next book.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Harper via Edelweiss.
Renée Knight worked for the BBC directing arts documentaries before turning to writing. She has had TV and film scripts commissioned by the BBC, Channel Four, and Capital Films. In April 2013, she graduated from the Faber Academy “Writing a Novel” course, whose alumni include S. J. Watson. She lives in London with her husband and two children.